While the world was at the cusp of a digital future, media and information businesses were grabbing opportunities to expand digitally. They knew that to expand, the first vital thing was their audience reach. We are proudly featuring Binti Pawa the senior director of SEO at TheStreet as a cover story. At TheStreet, she is responsible for leading, developing and integrating SEO and content strategies to increase TheStreet’s audience. Binti has held vital roles at various companies, including brands such as InStyle, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, and many others. She is a true motivation for many who work in various domains.
TheStreet, a leading financial news and information provider that has produced unbiased business news and market analysis for individual investors for more than 20 years, was acquired in August 2019 by Maven. Maven is a coalition of Mavens, from individual thought-leaders to world-leading publishers, operating on a shared digital publishing, monetization, and distribution platform, unified under a single media brand. TheStreet is the flagship hub and brand of Maven’s finance vertical.
- The Initial Challenges
Binti has faced a lot of the same challenges establishing an SEO department and companywide search strategies for at each company in her career. She has had to train and educate editorial staffs on SEO best practices. She had to get buy-ins from C-level management to ensure she could get the proper resources and build teams. And she has had to build relationships with members of teams that are not always receptive to the major changes she was implementing. It took a lot of convincing and training to get people to understand not only the changes that were needed for the company to succeed but why the changes were needed. By walking people through SEO best practices, explaining how and why processes had to change both from the content side and the technology side, and repeatedly being the SEO champion for the business, eventually, people became receptive to the changes and audience reach began trending in the right direction.
- Triggering Point for The Growth
TheStreet’s consumer business was in a turnaround state since 2016. After years of seeing double-digit declines in its subscription business (which represented around 70% of the revenue), a new leadership team was brought in in Q1 of 2016 to stabilize the business and build a foundation for growth. By the middle of 2017, the combination of a new team, tools, systems, and processes had resulted in the underlying metrics improving month-over-month, but TheStreet needed a broader reach at the top of the funnel to begin to see year-over-year growth. A significant portion of the funnel for the subscription business comes from TheStreet.com website, so the company needed to grow the audience in the most efficient and cost-effective way, with SEO being the primary focus. As traffic from Search began improving, the audience at the top of the funnel grew, helping the business see its first year-over-year growth in more than 3 years in the paid count and earned revenue in Q3 of 2018. That growth continued with total paid count ending up 6.6% YoY and earned revenue increasing by 3.4% YoY in Q4 2018.
- Inspiration Behind Working for TheStreet
The reason Binti took the role at TheStreet was because she saw a great opportunity to grow the business and turn their numbers around. The website traffic was down significantly YoY, and she believed that she could use the skills she had gained through her career to fix the many problems that were keeping the company from reaching its full potential. She identified short-term and long-term improvements that could be made with the editorial and technology teams, as well as existing workflows and content strategies for some quick traffic wins that ultimately brought YoY growth in Search traffic to the site. Also, she was excited to join TheStreet, one of the most renowned brands in digital financial for over two decades, as well as the chance to work closely with Jim Cramer.
- A Woman in The Business World, Breaking The Stereotype
It can be very difficult to break stereotypes; at one point or another, the majority of women have faced this. Binti personally faced this very early on in her journey to building her career. It’s important to learn and acknowledge when it’s happening. Stereotypes won’t disappear so it’s important to speak up when it is happening and then be prepared to react. She has used her learnings early on to become a role model and raise awareness.
Binti Pawa says, “For me, the process is gender-neutral and depends how process-oriented the person is. In SEO, it’s important to build process or training when working with an editorial or the technology team. Whether a male or female the process should be in place. The process is always handled case-by-case. For me, there hasn’t been a difference between it being handled by a man or a woman.”
- The Journey Towards Goal
She has learned so much through her career in search engine optimization over the years. She had some great successes working with some of the biggest known brands in the industry, such as Travelocity, InStyle, Food & Wine, People, and Essence to name a few. Early on in her career, one of the websites that she worked on was penalized by Yahoo (when Yahoo was still one of the biggest search engines) and the search traffic dropped over 60%. She had a very tough task ahead when she took the project on to bring them out of the deep hole. It took some time, but the day she was able to finally turn it around was one of her proudest moments. Anyone that has worked in SEO before 2006 would know that what Binti did was a difficult task due to the lack of resources and information available at the time. For example, in 2019 following Google’s John Mueller on Twitter provides access to SEO experts and the chance to get help (they may not answer directly but can guide you possibly in the right direction).
More recently, some of her major achievements have been speaking to large crowds on multiple SEO topics, including speaking about the success of driving 20% – 65% YoY growth via SEO to a digital business
- Professional Experience
Binti has been in Digital Marketing and Search Engine Optimization for over fifteen years in-house, leading performance-driven growth for both start-ups and corporate heavyweights. She has been working in Digital Publishing for seven years starting with Time Inc. where she was the Head of SEO working on such brands as InStyle, Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine.
She is presently the Sr. Director of SEO for TheStreet where she is responsible for leading, developing, and integrating SEO and content strategies. With the recent acquisition of TheStreet by Maven, she is also leading and contributing to SEO for brands such as Sports Illustrated.
Before working in Digital Publishing, she was immersed in Travel as the Head of SEO and Social for enterprise brands CheapOair, OneTravel and Travelocity.
- Her Team
A good trait for any leader is to take care of their employees. It’s important to relate to them and not to ever act like you are above them. When she sees an employee is having a problem, she thinks about what she has gone through in the past and shares with him/her how she overcome that situation. Something that she cares about is being REAL and transparent with her employees. She says, “I’vebeen lucky to have some great leaders in my life who I have learned that from.” It’s important to give feedback and be honest when employees ask. You can’t always share everything, but it’s important they understand you care. Lastly, make time for them always. Employees will not feel appreciated when their leaders are too busy to have a simple meeting or chat. It’s important to have bi/weekly meetings with your staff.
She has been fortunate to have built a strong talent of individuals on her team, saying “My team is unique in that they collaborate well with each other. They communicate openly with each other by sharing their opinions and ideas and respect each other’s opinions even if they don’t always see eye to eye.”
Her teammates offer each other support and are always ready to help when there is a need. Many times, she has seen her team help one another out while the other is away on personal leave or holidays.
TheStreet has been a trusted brand with both a subscription business and advertising model in the financial information space for more than 20 years. It lies at the intersection of financial markets and investing news publishers (e.g., WSJ, FT, MarketWatch, Bloomberg), investment tools and education platforms (e.g., Investopedia, brokers, and Fintech companies) and investment advice and stock pick companies (e.g., Motley Fool, Investorplace, Stansberry, Zacks).
TheStreet.com provides time-sensitive markets and investing news and analysis, as well as personal finance and retirement news and commentary.
Action Alerts Plus is one of TheStreet’s subscription products based on Jim Cramer’s charitable trust portfolio and has transformed into an investing club focused on educating its members about investing and portfolio management.
Real Money is another subscription offering that focuses on investment recommendations and stock picks by giving subscribers actionable trading ideas and advice.
TheStreet’s newest subscription product, Retirement Daily, is its first product not focused solely on investing in US equities. It focuses on retirement and financial planning advice, income-producing ideas for when retirees, and wealth management education and advice.
As the hub and brand of Maven’s finance vertical, TheStreet’s reach and engagement will grow with the combination of Maven’s growing roster of expert financial journalists operating hyper-focused category destinations, ranging from equities and bonds to crypto and taxes. With more content and a larger audience, TheStreet will be able to create new premium subscription offerings for people looking to learn about financial markets and investing no matter their stage in life.
The Maven technology and platform is now powering Sports Illustrated as well as servicing over 275 brands and websites, with over 100 million monthly unique visitors (and growing), Maven is providing a set of technology solutions with built-in shared traffic distribution and world-class monetization that is helping publishers of all sizes with a path to a sustainable and profitable future.
- Her Inspiration
She thinks the story at TheStreet is particularly inspiring. Margaret de Luna, President and COO, did an excellent job hiring the right talent at a crucial time who were dedicated to turning the company and the brand around in a short period of time. By changing the culture, the company went from massive subscription declines to successfully drive subscription and earned revenue increases in a shorter than expected period, culminating in an eventual sale. Everyone in this office in the different departments worked together to get to this point in just a few years.
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice.” – Steve Jobs
She says that she likes this quote because if you try to go about pleasing everyone, you’re going to fall short. You’re never going to make everyone happy, so it’s better to do things your way, speak your mind and aim high. People will try to bring you down, but you need to get back up and listen to your own intuition. Whatever ignites your passion, don’t let it die.
When we asked about her favourite book, she said that most of her reading is focused on digital marketing and search, because it is so constantly evolving, and that takes up a lot more of her time than books. These industries are changing so often, and Google makes so many announcements that she is still reading every day, and reading about something that she is passionate about.
Binti Pawa says, “Just be yourself, and don’t lose yourself in that rat race. It’s important to acknowledge your achievements, stay confident and not forget who you are. It’s good to be competitive because it keeps you on your feet and keeps you wanting more. But don’t get swept up in it.”
Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right – Steve Jobs.
Credits for all the photographs of Binti Pawa : Thomas J Strodel.